The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of ecstasy is an art exhibit I attended when I was about 16 weeks pregnant. The exhibit was called Ecstasy: In and About Altered States, and the art was supposed to replicate the experience of being on drugs. It was, to say the least, a trip. One of the first pieces I experienced (because that is the only word I can use) was a round yellow pod that looked like a small space craft. People were lined up to go in one at a time and sit on the black velvet stool in the center of it and stare at the walls, which were also black velvet and covered with rhinestones. Inside of the round, sparkling space, with no corners for reference, I quickly lost my sense of up from down. This odd feeling was enhanced by the bizarre audio clips that were being piped in from an old Zsa Zsa Gabor sci-fi film.
The exhibit also included paintings, short films, installations, sculptures of giant mushrooms, and lots more, but my favorite exhibit was one that I saw on the map but couldn't find in the museum. There was only a huge, blank wall where it was supposed to be. The wall separated the space between exhibits and on one end, there was a passageway to the next space. I asked a security guard where Exhibit #4 was and he said "right here." We were standing in that slim passageway and he pointed to the thick wall. "The wall moves,” he said. "It's on a motor. This gap will narrow and then get wider again. Just wait."
My friends and I wondered at the artistic value of a moving wall, and wondered if the guard was messing with us. So we watched the wall to see if we could detect any movement. We stood perfectly still, staring at the wall and the floor till our eyes blurred. Many people were coming in and out of the gap and some of them gave us funny looks and walked past. After several minutes we realized that the wall had indeed moved. We also realized that staring transfixed at a wall for 10 minutes was perhaps the funniest and most drug-like experience of the whole day.
Of course, that was one of the draws to the exhibit. I overheard lots of people talking about whether or not different exhibits were anything like their drug experiences. Since the strongest thing I have ever been on is Benadryl, I couldn't fully participate in any of these conversations. But if you consider the simplest definition of ecstasy (a trance-like state where an individual transcends or dissociates from normal consciousness) which is also generally the outcome of narcotics use, then there was one installation piece that did it for me.
It was the last exhibit. It was a dark black room, and on the way in, I was directed to grab a pillow. There was meditative music playing and the atmosphere was very calming. I sat on the cousin and stared at what looked like a large black planter box with many colored lights shining on it. From the box, smoke (or perhaps chalk dust) was rising and twisting and curling. If you have ever stared at smoke rising, you know how mesmerizing it can be. Add the slowly shifting colors of the lights and the peaceful music and I quickly entered a peaceful, beautiful trance. I was hardly aware of my body at all. I had gone inside and was thinking about my unborn child and contemplating things of a spiritual nature. I hadn't felt so at peace in months.
Of course, now that I am in hypnosis school (3rd week now) and am learning about the mind and how it works, I can see that putting that exhibit last was very strategic. After overloading all of our senses for several hours, this exhibit was like a hypnotic induction. They gave us a comfortable cushion and gave our overloaded conscious minds an escape, and my brain happily accepted it. As a result, I left feeling calm and peaceful and wondering when and how I would be able to experience that ecstasy again.
This is how my pregnancy journey began—with a craving for ecstasy, specifically, spiritual peace and oneness with creation. So I began searching for it any and everywhere.
Not long after that, I started practicing prenatal Kundalini Yoga and meditation and found that I could quickly and easily reach this peaceful state with the right preparation and tools. And I suddenly couldn't live without it.
Later, I took a Hypnobirthing class and learned self hypnosis, which is different in intent than meditation, but similar in that you are letting go of the conscious, critical mind. (More on hypnosis another day.)
Ecstasy as a religious concept has been around for ages. Religious ecstasy is defined as expanded spiritual awareness, visions or absolute euphoria (aka: a spiritual high, outpouring of spirit, etc.) It is also sometimes defined as including a stupefaction or immobility of the body while the soul contemplates divine things. Though we never use the word ecstasy in our religious dialog, there are examples of people in this paralyzed state of ecstasy all over in the scriptures. The first that come to mind are King Lamoni and Queen Lamoni who are presumed dead, but after a few days arise and start prophesying and telling of all the wondrous things they saw in visions. Many others had similar experiences, including Alma the younger, an entire multitude in Jacob 7, and Balaam, who is described as falling "into a trance" with his eyes open in Numbers 24.
There are also hundreds of others who don’t mention immobility of the body but describe their experience as being “carried away” by the Spirit in a vision or dream.
Certainly, during pregnancy we are in a position to receive more spiritual awareness and visions. In fact, there are almost a dozen pregnant women in the scriptures that we know or can infer had visions, angelic visitations, or increased spiritual awareness (Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Leah, Mary, Elisabeth, Hannah, Tamar—just to name a few). Some did not seem to be seeking out these kinds of experiences, but we presume were extremely righteous women, others sought out that expansion.
I believe that if we can draw close to the Lord and learn how to meditate and use the other tools that we have, like hypnosis or imagery, then achieving a state of transcendence, deep relaxation, extreme joy, or bliss or absolute euphoria can be every day occurrences. Not all day every day--but some of it. Perhaps you begin with 3 minutes of meditation a day and slowly work your way up to 30 minutes. Each day lengthening or deepening your practice in anticipation of birth--that peak physical, emotional and spiritual experience of unrestrained excitement when you meet your baby.
I just watched Orgasmic Birth for the first time tonight and something Elisabeth Davis CPM said struck me: She was saying that in addition to doing what is best for the baby, women should “take a step toward experiencing something that life hardly ever gives you. If you were told that you would have one of the most physically, emotionally, spiritually transcendent moments of your life, and here is the map to get there would you really say no?”
I like that she used the word transcendent, because that is what ecstasy is, when you transcend your body, your inhibitions, your fear. This is also what one experiences during orgasm (perhaps one of the reasons they chose that title for the film). Birth is (or can be) one of life’s peak ecstatic/transcendent experiences.
I got a birth story a few months ago from a woman named Valinda who had 9 children—which seems like a lot of experience with birth, but she said that it didn’t feel like very much experience at all. She compared it to a sport or activity you found thrilling—for me that would be surfing—then she said, imagine if you only got to do it 9 times in your life. Or only once. Imagine only having an orgasm 9 times.
To come back to drugs and their role in ecstasy, I found this in an encyclopedia summary:
"Various methods have been used to achieve ecstasy, which is a primary goal in most forms of religious mysticism. The most typical consists of four stages: (1) purgation (of bodily desire); (2) purification (of the will); (3) illumination (of the mind); and (4) unification (of one's being or will with the divine). Other methods are: dancing…or whirling dervishes…; the use of sedatives and stimulants..; and the use of certain drugs …and similar products…. Most mystics, both in the East and in the West, frown on the use of drugs because no permanent change in the personality (in the mystical sense) has been known to occur."
I would like to emphasize the last sentence. No permanent change in the personality has been known to occur. This is the biggest difference I have seen in mothers who intend to have a natural birth and prepare for it (even if it doesn't go as they planned) and women who don't prepare at all, counting on drugs to help them "transcend." The women who have sought ways to achieve transcendence on their own—whether through study, meditation, hypnosis, prayer, music, dancing, artistic expressions, or other means—are the ones whose hearts are more fully transformed and are most prepared for motherhood.